Art on Street Level - The Constant Evolution of Newspaper Boxes

When you live in a big city, it's easy to miss details or notice the seemingly uninteresting; you're more concerned about how to get from Point A to Point B, on the fastest route possible. Or you're just looking over your shoulder for potential dangers or creepers. I mean, who has the time to look at newspaper boxes? Are newspaper boxes that interesting? They're just THERE. Who cares? C'mon, really? The answer is, yes ... let's take a quick minute to take these unremarkable utilitarian city objects into consideration. 

This past Fall, one of the assignments in my Art 101 class, was to find 'propaganda' in our current world and that was in conjunction with the required reading on this subject. We reviewed on how propaganda was utilized during wartime, in modern advertising and how it is still being used to this day - we recalled how the Russians infiltrated social media during the 2016 election. Anyway, my students were a little unsure about this particular assignment - they knew propaganda was about persuasion and it could also be political. They just couldn't think where to find it. I told them, 'Newspaper boxes. Look at newspaper boxes on your way home tonight. Mailboxes too.' I could see that they now understood - they clearly were familiar with mailboxes that are cluttered with all sorts of messages and graffiti. Everyone is able to post their opinions on whatever they want on newspaper boxes. It's similar to social media, but in a physical/analog way - the hand is in the work; and they post there specifically, because people are getting their news from these objects anyway. The stickers are placed there with clear intent to influence or publicize.

Newspaper boxes at the Damen Blue Line train stop, Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

Newspaper boxes at the Damen Blue Line train stop, Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

The majority of newspaper boxes in Chicago are covered with messages and images - there's a great example in the photo above. It runs the gamut from the political to artists trying to get their name and/or work out there. Obviously, depending where you are in the city, there's going to be more posting ... Wicker Park has a large concentration of 20 & 30-something's, so count on more activity there. You can get a good sense of what people are thinking about by looking at what is posted on the street - subtle and not-so-subtle messages of dissent, information, messages, which are really just propaganda in varying degrees. 

Since spray-can/aerosol paint is banned within city limits, it looks like this is the only way, street & graffiti artists can express themselves. Having said that, Chicago has had serious street gang problems for many years in the past and those gangs would mark their neighborhood territories with spray-paint. Even though gangs still exist in Chicago, the efforts in trying to subdue them has really worked and banning spray-paint is part of that. Unfortunately, it affects artists in a negative way and so Chicago is cutting its nose to spite its face. Anyway, Chicago artists make it work any way that they can and they have resorted to stickers and paint markers and the scale is kept small and intimate. Perhaps this is the new Chicago street style? I'm not sure, but sticker bombing is a good release/outlet for the meantime.

By the way, a few of my students did use the image of the pig wearing a policeman's cap (shown in this post) for their propaganda example; I had a pro-police stances and anti-police brutality perspectives. That's exactly what makes propaganda such a powerful vehicle of thought - regardless of the position, the influence that it has on your consciousness is impressive. The point of the assignment was to get kids thinking and looking at the world that they live in and directly involved with ... which is the purpose of this specific blog post. The outwardly mundane and the so-called insignificant details in things, play an important role and it's really crucial to slow down and take notice ... it's literally visual hints/clues to our current world. Artists have always had their pulse on what is important in society - they pay attention. We all should.